Empire of Light
The OA is a show you’ll either absolutely love or absolutely hate. Embracing some pretty unusual stylistic ticks, The OA is accompanied by a slow-paced story chock full of symbology, thought-provoking themes and strong characterisation. Split across 8 episodes, The OA builds up its story to a big reveal that never really comes, instead giving us an ending that’s supposed to come across as profound and liberating but instead feels more humorous and incredulous than it should be.
The series does open very strongly, gripping you from the first minute right the way through to the end of the first episode. Having gone missing seven years ago, a confused young woman called Prairie returns home with her sight restored and a newfound appreciation for life. Calling herself “The OA”, she gathers together an ensemble of five men and women to help her with her mission, which is revealed over a series of flashbacks for the following seven episodes. It’s at this point where the story splits into branching paths – one following past events with her childhood and future imprisonment and the other advancing the present-day story with our new group of protagonists.
As we start to learn more about Priarie’s past and what she’s endured over the past seven years, the true purpose of gathering these people together is revealed before a finale that promises to answer these big questions but never quite gets there. Instead, we’re left with a tantalizing cliffhanger and numerous questions over just what happened at the end of the episode. Ultimately this ending will really swing you one way or the other. Personally, I found it to be a little pretentious and tonally inconsistent with what we’ve seen before, failing to answer many of the questions raised in the series. Having said that, the deeper connection with politics and society in general are sure to strike a chord with some people.
Thematically at least, The OA is chock full of interesting themes and ideas. From the afterlife and death to love, compassion and friendship, The OA makes sure every single episode is bursting with things to examine and ponder over. This ultimately spills over to the camera work too which features numerous interesting and artistic shots. One such scene late on sees Abel Johnson’s face fade out, only for his outlined features to merge with the layout of a room full of tables and chairs from a top-down view.
There’s all sorts of interesting religious symbology here too – including hints at angels and, at a stretch, Priarie and Homer acting as Adam and Eve with their captor Hap “playing God”. There’s all sorts of takeaways from The OA and this subjective, analytical way of examining this fascinating series actually makes the journey well worth taking. As a straight forward, consumable piece of entertainment, The OA really won’t be for everyone but will certainly find its audience. The episodes are often suffocatingly slow, especially during the third episode and part of the fourth which are the biggest culprits.
On top of its deep thematic core and interesting religious connotations, The OA breaks conventional ideas by introducing a concept of flexible run-times across each episode. The opening 2 or 3 episodes are over an hour-long, the middle chunk are around 50 minutes with the two penultimate episodes reduced to around 35 minutes. This is then followed up by an hour finale. It’s a really interesting idea and one that I wish more shows would adopt, helping to pace the story out a little better and break things up into chapters.
When I finished The OA I really didn’t know what to make of it. I thought the show was overlong, the plot dragged out a little too much and the various stylistic ticks felt borderline pretentious. Having said that, the show does do an excellent job with its characterisation and the chemistry between the two sets of characters are really good indeed. If you can look past the ending and expect the worst, The OA does do a decent enough job of building tension and anticipation throughout its challenging episodes. With big question marks hanging over the series, hopefully the second season can iron out the kinks but for now, The OA remains in marmite territory – you’re either going to love or hate this.
Verdict - 6/10